10 Tips for Writing Police Reports Efficiently
10 Tips for Writing Police Reports Efficiently
Central to writing better police field notes is developing the ability to outline key facts relevant to observed behaviors and events that occurred. The biggest challenge in writing police reports is describing events and people to others who weren’t there at the time things took place. Doing so in a way that is objective yet clear and professional is a challenge for every police officer. By taking contemporaneous notes as soon as possible you will be able to write police notes that are:
- Clear and brief
- Concise and precise
- Accurate and complete
- Completed on Time
- Readable with acceptable grammar
Taking notes contemporaneously means that you will be able to devote more time towards developing the highest quality writing. Instead of rushing to complete police reports at the last minute, you will simply have to perform a quick edit and make some minor changes before turning reports in. However the following are things you should avoid and edit out from your police reports to avoid having to rewrite them:
Even if you know the person has something medically wrong with them you are not allowed to diagnose them without a medical license. Your police reports should never include a diagnosis of a suspect or victim as it reflects poorly on your professionalism. Instead focus on being objective and describing behaviors everyone involved displayed at the time in your contemporaneous notes. By describing observable facts and the behavior instead of jumping to conclusions you will remain professional and objective in all your police field notes.
Clichés and Jargon
Using a cliché or jargon doesn’t guarantee that whoever is reading your report will understand what you’re saying. Even if you know that your supervisor would understand you it comes across as unprofessional to use clichés or jargon in your police reports. This is especially true if your police reports end up being used in a court room. By avoiding clichés and jargon you can reduce your risk of being asked to rewrite your police reports.
Street Talk must be avoided for the same reason why clichés and jargon should be. You don’t know if whoever is reading your police report will understand what you’re trying to say and it comes across as unprofessional as well. Avoid using street talk even if that’s what you would normally say or use in a courtroom (though you probably shouldn’t).
Stereotypes and Prejudices
Including stereotypes and prejudices in your contemporaneous notes are not only wrong but can be incriminating towards yourself should you ever be accused of excessive force or brutality. Should you ever find yourself accused of excessive force you don’t want legal review to find your police reports full of writing that backs up prosecuting claims. Even if you know your supervisor won’t flag you for using stereotypes and making prejudiced remarks, leave out this kind of writing from all police field notes.
Writing Reports More Efficiently
By using these 10 tips when you write your police report you’ll be able to complete your paperwork more quickly and efficiently. Take contemporaneous notes so anyone who reads your report will be impressed by how much you can recall while writing your police field notes. Avoiding wordiness means you will be able to write your police reports faster and will come across as more professional to anyone reading your report.
- Names and Pronouns
Expressions such as “abovementioned witness”, “victim” or “this officer” are not only out dated but can become confusing as you continue reading your report. In the past officers were taught impersonal terminology displays objectivity and accuracy. However when multiple people are involved it can become confusing especially when police reports are being utilized in legal proceedings. By writing contemporaneous notes you will be able to remember names and events much easier than if you decided to wait longer.
- One Idea per Sentence
Stick to short sentences that contain only one idea. This makes the police report easy to read and understand. Also having short sentences means you are less likely to make a mistake and will save time when you’re preparing for a court hearing. Fewer mistakes also mean you’ll be asked to rewrite your police reports less often than you would if you were using longer sentences.
- Start Off Strong
When writing your police report it’s beneficial to start every sentence with a person, place, or thing. By doing this you will be clearer about what’s going on. When recording actions taken by yourself and other police officers it helps to use action verbs to grab the attention of whoever is reading your field notes. Some strong verbs to use are as follows:
Using these strong verbs will make sure the action you or others took to resolve the incident is clear and gives you the opportunity to record your observations and any statements made by parties involved. Instead of looking for ways to start a new sentence, having a list of these verbs by your desk will help you get over the hardest part of any police report and get started quicker.
- Avoid Run on Sentences
At some point it may become necessary to link multiple ideas together but as a general rule it’s a good idea to limit each sentence to three commas. Doing so helps you create better grammar which ensures easier readability and avoids the possibility of making a mistake in your police report.
- Strive for Clarity
Aim to paint the picture of what occurred by being as specific as possible. As a general rule never allow the following words to stand alone without clarifying behavior or statements made in conjunction.
This list doesn’t denote that you can’t use any of these words but instead requires additional explanation. For example you wouldn’t simply write “Suspect was delusional”. Instead you would write “Suspect was delusional and made several remarks about being followed and having a chip behind his ear”. Giving extra detail and examples of what brought you to this conclusion makes you come across as observant and logical. Simply stating the suspect was delusional may come across as jumping to conclusions.
- Keep It Simple
Stick to using simple language when writing contemporaneous notes. Use “since” as opposed to “inasmuch”. By using simple words you allow the reader to quickly gather as much information as possible from your police reports.
- Outline Key Facts
Briefly including contradictory facts or evidence observed at the time of the incident is considered highly professional police reporting practice and shows a deeper level of critical thinking and experience that every police officer may not have in their police reports. However, jumping to conclusions, guesses, hunches, and other thought processes not based on facts or evidence do not belong in your police field notes. Statements such as “he was angry and aggressive” won’t stand in court. A statement such as “he displayed aggressive behavior by punching the wall and kicking a chair” will stand in court.
- Write in Paragraphs
One of the key elements of writing contemporaneous notes for your police reports is to organize information in groups. Doing so will greatly increase your ability to present information in a way that is clear, concise, and professional. An easy way to organize the information for your field reports is to devote a paragraph to your observations, what each witness told you, actions you performed, and finally the evidence collected. By sticking to this format you make your report more logical, easier to write, read, and understand.
- Write in an Active Voice
Writing in a passive voice does not guarantee objectivity and accuracy. When writing your police reports imagine what you would say if you were asked to testify of the incident in court. You wouldn’t say “A knife was seen in the victim’s hand”. Instead you would say “I saw a knife in the victim’s hand”. By writing in an active voice you capture the reader’s attention and further increase the quality of your police reports.
- Use Bullets
There’s more than one type of bullet every police officer should have in their arsenal and that’s bullet points. Much of your ability to portray vital information in your contemporaneous notes is retaining the ability to capture the reader’s attention. Short paragraphs, short sentences, and bullet points help maintain the reader’s attention so that vital evidence doesn’t get glazed over. Using bullet points is helpful when trying to portray several pieces of related information from witnesses, multiple observations on one topic, and actions taken to help resolve incidents.
There are many skills required to make writing better contemporaneous notes for police reports easier. Being able to extract key ideas, explain situations clearly to others who weren’t part of the event, and remaining objective as well as professional, are important skills. Following these 10 tips will help you write better police field notes. Doing so means you will write more professional, up to date, and efficient police reports while avoiding wordiness and spending extra time writing and rewriting reports.